What’s the point of mentoring? Well, where do we start?
Mentoring may be even more important for some people, now that we are working from home and may be feeling isolated. But more generally, those who receive mentoring value it, and mentors feel the benefit too. So read on….
Have you ever felt that you wanted someone as a sounding board who would help you think through challenges? Have you ever wanted someone to help you think strategically about your career? Have you ever wanted guidance on the next steps in your career? Do you now feel the need for a bit of a rethink about your PhD or your postdoctoral work in the light of COVID-19? Then having a mentor could well be what you need.
Have you ever felt that you wanted to support the next generation of researchers? Have you ever wanted to give your time to someone who wants to be challenged by you to think of new directions? Do you like it when people have lightbulb moments when you’ve asked them to think about something? Then becoming a mentor could well be for you.
SSM has been running a mentoring scheme for about three years. Generally, the approach is that SCRs mentor MCRs and in turn MCRs mentor ECRs. In some cases, we have SCRs mentoring ECRs as we have a shortage of MCR mentors. Peer-to-peer mentoring is also possible but it’s not a model we’ve followed yet, though do let us know if you think it would be a good idea. SCRs can really only have peer-to-peer mentoring, though we have wondered whether SCRs might benefit from ECR mentors to keep them aware of the challenges that ECRs face and to help make sure they don’t inadvertently do things to make the lives of ECRs more difficult.
We provide training for mentors, so, if you are interested, do email SSM@hg3.co.uk and when we have sufficient demand we will organise the next session. We have evaluated the scheme informally through questionnaires to mentors and mentees, and almost without exception, both mentors and mentees say they’ve greatly valued the experience. But we do welcome feedback even if it is negative as we want to keep improving the scheme.
Mostly, mentoring is about the mentor listening to the mentee. But rather than giving advice the approach is more one of asking questions. ‘How’ and ‘what’ questions are preferred. Other forms of questions such as ‘why’ can be too direct. Mentees have to work out the solutions for themselves, prompted by questions from their mentors. It’s not a case of the mentor telling the mentee what to do. In a focus group, in a different context considering health behaviour change, one woman put it very graphically. She said “you know you can give me the information but you can’t make me stop eating the six cream cakes, can you? I have to make that decision for myself”. It’s the same with mentoring, the mentee has to make the decisions.
So, if you are an SSM member who would like to get involved in mentoring, either as a mentor, a mentee or both, do contact us on SSM@hg3.co.uk. We would be delighted to welcome more people to this thriving scheme, from which many people are already benefitting. Particularly at this time of crisis, supporting each other is vitally important.
Hazel Inskip and Rebecca Lacey
SSM mentoring officers